1. Witchymama
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    Witchymama Active Member

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    How much detail do you use?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Witchymama, Mar 11, 2016.

    When you are describing your environments, how much detail do you include? I find myself stressing about describing every little thing. I don't want it to come across as tedious description and bore the readers, but I feel it's important to give detail, to help the reader with getting "into the story" as it were.
    My question is, when do you let the reader's imagination take over? (if you get what I'm asking:))
     
  2. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    As a reader I find I get very bored, very fast by large passages of descriptive text. I don't want to know what colour the walls are painted or what fabric the curtains are made out of -I wanna know what's going on in the room and why. Of course some description is good, heck it's essential, but the advice I've been given is that readers want to fill in some of the gaps themselves, as it makes the story easier to relate to. Describe only what is necessary and relevant to plot and the reader will take it from there.:superwink:
     
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  3. croak3r
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    croak3r Member

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    I try to use as little as possible, while still giving the reader a good picture of what's going on. I think a lot of authors try to tell you too much about a scene which you probably will be done with within a few pages and the information will be rendered useless. Maybe give a passage to someone and tell them to describe the scene back to you and see if it matches what you wanted them to imagine.

    I think if done wrong it can also be quite bad too. Reminds me of a Roman gladiator book i read where the author described an armory with silly terms like 'the swords and shield hanging on the wall glistened' and then went on to describing every piece of equipment inside the room. Not only do swords and shield not usually glisten like they are finely polished metal, which makes me believe the author has no idea about his own setting, but ir eally could not care less about what was inside the room, apart from knowing it was full of weaponry.
     
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  4. DueNorth
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    DueNorth Active Member

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    I would suggest that it depends somewhat on the genre and your target audience, but that in general the setting of scene is part of the art of storytelling . I think you want the reader to have a vivid picture in their mind, as though they were themselves there in the scene. Some great storytellers, like Pat Conroy (who died earlier this week) were masterful at this. Rather than "boring," his descriptions of scenes and characters enhanced his novels. My suggestion would be to read great writers to get a sense of this--and practice--get feedback from your writer's group or friends about what is too much and what is too little description in your writing. It is not so much the detail, but how the description is written--that is the art of writing.
     
  5. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    Good setting description capturse the MC's perception of the setting. When people look around a room, they do not see a comprehensive picture. Details stand out: The bored looking girl in the corner with the limp hair, a half-smoked cigarette dangling from her lips, the cracked mirror behind the bar reflecting two men arguing in the street outside, the barkeep eyeing you churlishly as he wipes down a stein with a spotted rag.

    I like settings that are described this way, with details that stand out. It is very immersive. Steven King is very good at doing this. When I read his books, I feel like I am there. I would recommend reading any one of his bestsellers to see what I mean.
     
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I approve of small details, but a small number of them. Like mentioning the green sugar crystals decorating the chocolate buttercream of the cupcake, but mentioning little else about the cupcake bakery. Curated small details.
     
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  7. Wolf Daemon
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    Wolf Daemon Active Member

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    I like the middle ground of describing things. I give enough info for them to be drawn in but enough to let them imagine it.

    I.E.: He wore an old set of military power armor still painted for urban camouflage with a large smiley face insignia on the front. _______yada yada____(few more details).

    Something like that.
     
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  8. Fernando.C
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    Fernando.C Active Member

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    That right there is a great advice when it comes t0 scene descriptions. I'll only add a few things.

    The way in which you would describe a scene and the amount of details you'd include really depend on the specific situation you want to describe, I mean there's no general formula for the appropriate amount of details in a scene. It's all bout the context of that particular scene and what sense you want to invoke in the reader as well. Say your MCs are lost in a huge, thick forest at night. Here you'd probably want to deliver home the fear and anxiety your character feel, how scared and vulnerable they are. You're description of the scene should reflect that.

    Also I think you should take into account the personality and the mood of the character from whose point of view you're describing the scene. Because a person's frame of mind can affect how they perceive the world and the environment around them.

    For example say you've got two characters walking into a scary-looking abandoned building - sounds cliché I know but bear with me :D. Now say one them is the type that gets easily scared while the other is pretty tough and has seen far worse things in his/her life than an abandoned building. Describing the interior of the building from each of their POVs would be very different. One would see shadows at every corner and would jump at every tiny noise while the other would just see it as any other ordinary building.

    I hope I didn't end up confusing you more instead of helping but that's the best advice I could give you.:)
     
  9. Witchymama
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    Witchymama Active Member

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    There is so much solid advice here that I won't quote it all. To some degree, I agree with everything that y'all have said. I guess the best way to look at it would be this: detail everything, and cut what comes off as extraneous. I don't think I'll be able to kick the habit completely. The authors that I enjoy reading the most put a great deal of detail into their descriptions.
    I recall reading Jean M.Auel for the first time. She poured such intricate detail into her work on The Earth's Children that I was transported through time 35,000 years or so. That's powerful writing, if you ask me.
     
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  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'd say don't worry about this issue much while actually writing your first draft. Stuff in all the details you can think of that help set the scene and move on. You won't know what will be useful until you look back on what you've done and start pruning your story for publication.

    It's during the edits that you start chopping extra details out. As @ChickenFreak suggested, use "curated small details."

    Leave out stuff that we all know anyway—the sun is warm, the sky is blue, rain is wet.

    Leave out stuff that would not concern the characters at that point in the story. If your main character is being chased down a corridor by armed guards, bent on hacking his head off, he's not going to be noticing the wallpaper unless it figures in to his plan of escape.

    Throw in one or two unusual details, every so often, that really nail the setting. A whole wad of description dumped on a modern reader just doesn't stick.

    The easiest way to nail a setting is to filter the details through the thoughts and emotions of your POV character.

    If your main character walks into a hall filled with partygoers, don't be tempted to describe every person who is at the party, what they are wearing and their hairdos, how many chandeliers are hanging from the ceiling, what's on all the food trays, etc. Instead, let us know what HE is looking for at that moment.

    Is he scanning the room for somebody he knows? Is he looking for a person he might want to get to know? Is he looking for a quiet corner where he can park himself and not be noticed? Does his brain rebel at all the chatter? Can he pick out a couple of words here and there? Is he looking for the bar? What will he have to do to get to the bar without getting grabbed by his old girlfriend, whom he spots right away?

    In other words, keep us in his head and don't give us details that don't matter to HIM. What does this character think or feel about a particular setting? That's what will stick with the reader.
     
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2016
  11. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    What I do is describe the most interesting and/or obvious features. And the more space is practical the more of that I add, the less the less.
     
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  12. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    For example, if it's the house of someone important to the story, I would give a somewhat detailed description of each room shown. Favouring rooms of more interest obviously; bathrooms aren't usually worth describing much. And I do this describing especially if they're someone who would have an interesting house.
     
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  13. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    More specifically for example; in the interesting house, I might list and briefly describe all the ornaments and furniture in their exotic longue room because I have such a strong and fascinating image in my head. It's not just about greater meanings and plot points, make it vivid and interesting as well I say.
     
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  14. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    For me, and this is only because I have a short attention span most of the time, if you need to give an extensive description of something I'd rather be given it in parts in a good old description sandwich. Describe A, then add some action or dialogue. Describe B, add some internal thoughts and back to describing C and so on. It irks me a bit when I'm reading and getting into the story line and the author puts the story on hold to describe the landscape, but maybe that's just because I'm an unsophisticated brute :supercheeky:
     
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  15. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    You can relay information cleverly.

    "The room was filled with smoke."

    "John coughed from the smoke."

    The average reader should be able to figure out the second one, and it's more interesting that option number one.
     
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  16. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Definitely weave that kind of stuff in there to make the description more exciting and potentially communicate more emotion and plot.
     
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  17. King Arthur
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    King Arthur Banned

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    Even backstory.

    John coughed from the smoke. It wasn't like the cigarettes he'd messed around with as a kid. Instead, searing pain went through his lungs and tears streamed down his face.
     
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  18. Doctore
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    As much as I'm a wannabe writer, I was a wannabe artist first. In fact I was that for many years before I decided to try my hand at writing. So I think my mindset is that of an artist rather than an author in this instance. I love descriptions, I love reading them and writing them it makes the story so much more colorful and put you in the moment. Without good details your characters and story could happen anywhere at any time, to any person. You have to explain this enough so that people get a sense of it, a good sense. One thing that people tend to do is to assume that their readers are aware of things just because it's in the author mind and that is a no no. YOU the author are telling ME a story, so tell me the darn story and don't leave anything out! I don't want to have to sit there and try to think.. "Well they said this? Does that also mean that?" No, paint me a picture and let's get on with the magic!

    If you are writing ANY period piece you need details and you need plenty of them. Why? I'll tell you why, you're going to run into three types of people, those like me that love period stories and like to be drawn into the scene by the mention of what's there vs what's in my own world, and those who don't know one from the other. For those that don't know one from the other, well guess what? You just showed them didn't you? And now in the future they might come to share a love of those tidbits as I do. As for the third, well they don't like details much at all and there is no getting around it. But the up side is that those people probably rent more books than they buy them.

    I'll say this also, when I write, when I want to get inspired I read books with details and stories that have those little tidbits that many people look over because while it may not seem like very important info, it's part of the characters life, and I want to know YOUR character I want to see their lives as closely as possible. I noticed a lot of discussion goes on here about character motives, and getting inside the mind of the character and getting to know them better. Well might I point out that the details are in the descriptions!! What's that you say? The woman is wearing a nurse's gown but not the scrubs of today, or the sexy french wear from tv but something that looks like a frock made out of bed sheets? Well I'd say it's obvious she's from the early periods and if that's the case then I can guess she's probably fucking repressed.

    Okay maybe that wasn't the best example lol but do you see my point? It's like this, I write details, I used to be that guy mentioned above who goes into pages of details, but I've see toned it down...a little. But I still write details and I describe things so that I can place my reader right in the story with the characters. I think I like the idea better of my readers feeling like they are there in the story, or better yet living the events themselves rather than feeling like they are hearing the story from a third party.

    The End.
     
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  19. BoddaGetta
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    BoddaGetta Active Member

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    Unless you're writing from third person omniscient, do it from what the POV character notices in the environment, what matters to them at that location, and how they interact with the environment. King Arthur's example is a way to show this as well.

    An easy example of this would be Harry Potter. Rowling describes the things Harry notices, things that stand out to him because they are unique. We are told about the weather on the ceiling of the Great Hall, but we aren't told if the floor is made of mahogany wood or stone. Because the structure of the floor isn't really what Harry cares about the first time he enters Hogwarts.
     
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  20. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Well, you could drop a brief line saying "the stone floor" but yes, you can't elaborate on every colour and material.
     
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  21. Witchymama
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    Witchymama Active Member

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    Interesting bits of advice. All of them. My personal opinion on detail in books is, the more the merrier. I would much rather read a book that goes overboard on detail, than one that leaves me wondering, if that makes sense.
     
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  22. Wolf Daemon
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    Wolf Daemon Active Member

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    Then again I have always liked impossible characters.
     
  23. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is a fine line in details. I enjoy "The Outlander" series by Diane Gabaldon, and she does a great job of putting one in the 18th century. However, there are times when she goes on, describing every single leaf and stone and bird in a scene, to the point where I skim the artistry to get ahead to the story. It is like sugar in food. A little makes it sweet, too much becomes just too rich. But we all find our balance.

    My WIP is a world tour of the 1st Century from Alexandria through the Red Sea to India and China by ship, then back by land through China, Mongolia, by caravan to Bagram (yes today the airbase, then capital of Greek-speaking Bactria), Parthia and home to Rome. I think you would enjoy it... it is in final edit phase at 252K words. A lot of times I toned down my artistic narrative descriptions to dialogue. In Alexandria I had a very well-written set of paragraphs on the beauty of Alexandria, which would have been perfect for a history book, which this is not! Instead I turned it into dialogue as the Senator and two soldiers are in a cart going to a ship moored on Pharos near the great lighthouse, and talk about what a beautiful city it is, how marvelous the lighthouse is, and how it flashes (the Senator had been up inside, a donkey walking around the top, turning a set of mirrors that tracked and reflected the sun). And as they go by the beach alongside the Eunostis harbor, the centurion is quite taken with the scantly clad women with bare midriffs playing ball. The beautiful people of Alexandria! Yep, they had bikinis that would not have looked out of place on a 1950s beach. And it was a bit of local color that was completely missed in the narrative version.
     
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  24. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    She did a good job with it. Some authors can make heavy description work. Look at Mervyn Peake, for a fantasy example. These are very good writers with strong narrative voices. Authors who don't have that make you feel bogged down when they're giving heavily detailed description.
     
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  25. Witchymama
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    Witchymama Active Member

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    @Lew, That does sound like something I would enjoy reading. I will have to keep my eyes open for it once it's published.
    @Steerpike, I have not heard of Mervyn Peake, but I will be looking him up.
     

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